LinkedIn Learning

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Back at the start of the new school year in September, LinkedIn announced on their blog the launch of LinkedIn Learning, an online learning platform. I first heard about it via some panic posts about it being something colleges should fear. 

With goals of "enabling individuals and organizations to discover and develop the skills through a personalized, data-driven learning experience," schools should welcome the help. Correct?

LinkedIn Learning is really an extension of what the company did when they acquired content from Lynda.com. Combining that content with LinkedIn’s professional data and network gives them 450 million member profiles. If you use that big data, you can view how people, jobs, industries, organizations and even skills evolve over time.

LinkedIn Learning provides a dashboard that someone can use to identify the skills someone might need and then deliver "courses." I never viewed Lynda.com as a threat to the university. My school subscribed and we used it for a time as a way to bring students and faculty up to speed on specific software.

I don't see their new platform as a threat to the college degree either. In fact, I would guess that professionals out in the working world (and probably already with at least an undergraduate degree), job seekers and corporate trainers would be be the main audience.

The platform could be more of a threat to the MOOC approach to learning. So, why would I choose to pay for a course at LinkedIn rather than take a free course from a MOOC provider? As with any online course, the anytime, anywhere convenience is appealing. I might do it if the courses were smaller in enrollment and therefore more personalized. I would find some kind of certification or other way to use successful completion towards advancement in my organization. I would want a reasonable price. The ability to tie together a sequence of related courses into a concentration would also be appealing.

I saw this expansion of their lynda.com purchase described by those panicked and critical educators as a recommendation engine to courses or even a "Netflix for learning." I get that, but I could also compare it with Amazon's recommendations and those of many other websites that use AI to mine users to see trends. That is not a bad thing, and it is not something college allow or do very well now.

LinkedIn has of 9,000+ digital courses, most taught by industry experts. They cover a wide range of business, creative and technical topics, from leadership “soft skills” to design principles to programming. They claim that they add at least 25 courses a week. They offer courses in German, Spanish, Japanese and French.

I suppose it is the data-driven personalization that really interests me. Imagine a college where your personal "guidance" was better designed, but also where the department, majors and degrees were better designed. Do you know how long and how much time and work would be required to add 25 courses to a college catalog?

What LinkedIn Learning has on its side is that their recommendations are positioned within a familiar online space where employees and employers already feel comfortable.

This will not displace higher education any more than MOOCs or online education. Like those trends, it will disrupt, if it is successful. And perhaps higher education will be forced to adapt sooner than later. I think LinkedIn will view higher education as a secondary market.


Feedback on Student Writing and Using Mimesis to Teach Plagiarism

thumbs upInstructors, especially those who do not teach writing as a subject, often struggle when it comes to making suggestions to students about what they need to do to improve their writing. I saw a survey done by Turnitin.com of 2400 students in bachelor or graduate programs that asked what types of feedback they felt were most effective and what types of feedback they received most regularly.

The results can either be seen as encouraging or inconclusive. All types of feedback were seen by over half of the students as being either very or extremely effective. Even the lowest response, for general praise or encouragement, got a 56% positive response. 

The responses to the types of feedback were more interesting. 68% said that they received general comments regularly while only 36% said they received examples regularly. Suggestions for improvement, the type of feedback rated most effective by students, was only seen regularly by 58% of students.

It is also interesting that across every category students rated feedback as being more effective than educators rated it. That lack of belief in feedback is certainly connected to the students in the majority saying that they didn’t regularly receive any feedback at all.

So the concern here for teachers is not as much what type of feedback they give, but whether they are giving enough feedback.

During the years that I directed a writing program, it was made clear to me that, just like teachers in all the lower grades, professors dreaded having to decide and deal with writing that you believe it is plagiarized. Of course, that is why Turnitin.com has become a successful company.They suggested in a blog post a very unusual approach to teaching about plagiarism. Have students copy. Intentionally. 

copying the masters

Mimesis refers to the ability to copy. Mimicry is the practice of imitating. We often encourage students to mimic as a way of learning. We discourage students from copying. We should make the distinction clear to students.

I spent a few years on an academic integrity committee at a university. One of the most sensitive issues that came up in those meetings was about the perceived cultural differences when it came to imitating or copying by students. 

The university has large numbers of international students, most in STEM fields, and many of them have their greatest academic difficulties with academic writing. The Turnitin.com post says that "To many educators, there’s a belief that students in eastern countries learn through rote memorization and copying while those in western countries focus more or original work and creative thought. Though the stereotype is obviously not the complete truth, there are cultural differences between educational approaches in countries with an eastern cultural background and those with a western approach."

They point to research by Anita Lundberg who teaches for Australia's James Cook University at a satellite school in Singapore. Lundberg, a cultural anthropologist studying ethnography, the study of customs and cultures, says that the biggest lesson learned is that copying and imitation is a key part of the learning experience in all cultures and in nearly all areas. Mimesis can be found in all fields including writing and art, where great masters often start mimicking the works of those who came before.

With writing, it is a good idea to give students model papers for the students to work from and even mimic. Separate mimesis from plagiarism. Teach referencing and citation skills.


Degree-Planning Tools and Learning Advisors

road signOnly about half of all students who start college graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. It doesn't help that completion rate that the path to degrees is less linear than ever. More than a third of students transfer at least once during their college years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Of those, nearly half change institutions more than once.
EDUCAUSE ELI published a new brief in its "7 Things" series on "Degree-Planning Tools" which discusses how some colleges are allowing students to design their own college experience. Working with advisors and based on their own research into academic, professional, personal and financial aspects of their career goal, they design a curriculum path.

I view this as a kind of adaptive learning on a larger scale, not just within a course.

Technology is playing a role. Tools can help guide students to move based on their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and circumstances. I'm seeing these tools built into learning management systems. For example, Blackboard has MyEdu, Civitas Learning uses Degree Map, and Ellucian offers MyDegree. A newer player to me is Degree Compass which was acquired by Desire2Learn.

These tools fall under the category of predictive analytics, but I'm a believer that merely acquiring data won't make any positive changes without an intelligent way to apply it. I think this requires software paired with old-fashioned advising so that a student's goal and her academic career align. This is more than choosing the right courses and sequence. It is also about getting complementary experiences in internships, work experiences and professional networking. Those things probably won't come from software. 

A more human approach to this is perhaps the old-fashioned idea of having guidance counselors. They may come with new names. I have seen the title "learner advocate" used and most recently the odd "education sherpa" label used. "Sherpa" is Tibetan for "eastern people", and is an ethnic group from Nepal, high in the Himalayas. We know them as guides to explorers of the Himalayan region and expeditions to climb Mount Everest. In some cases, those guides do most of the serious work for inexperienced climbers. I wouldn't want to think that our educational guides would do much of the difficult work for students. 
The comparison has also been made to professional patient advocates who help people navigate the often-confusing medical system. This may be particularly important for students who are the first in their families to attend college and don't have natural access to people who can act as resources for academic decisions and guidance towards careers. 
 

Blending Competency-Based Education and Adaptive Learning



Last month, I attended the Fusion 2016 conference in Washington DC sponsored by the learning management system Brightspace (D2L or Desire2Learn). Two of the topics that ran across many of the presentations were competency-based education (CBE), programs and degrees, and adaptive learning. Both of these topics have been ones I have been written about and have been interested in the past two years.

CBE is a movement that Brightspace has put some focus on in its design. Success in CBE is assessed by the knowledge gained, not the time spent, so when a student masters a concept, they move on to the next. Until they master it, they receive specific guidance to help them. The plusses of CBE are usually given as faster completions, individualized pacing, credit for prior knowledge more immediate feedback and potential cost savings for students.

Adaptive learning is an educational method which uses technology (computers, LMS etc.) as interactive teaching devices. More importantly is using and coordinating any human (faculty, tutors etc.) and mediated resources to the unique needs of each learner. For me, adaptive learning is a 21st century take on what we called individualized learning several decades ago.

I believe that both approaches have value, but after hearing a number of presentations on them last month, I wrote in my notes "Why not blend adaptive learning with CBE?"

Dragan Gasevic has said that that what we need to do is create adaptive learners rather than adaptive learning. The idea that software should develop those desired attributes of learners that we want requires shifting education from the acquisition of knowledge. Gasevic and George Siemens consider knowledge acquisition to be "the central underpinning of most adaptive learning software today."  They would like to see more focus on the development of learner states of being, including affect, emotion, self-regulation and goal setting.  

I am not unique in looking to a blending of CBE and adaptive learning. Unfortunately, for a time, individualized/personalized learning, competency-based education, and blended learning were not well-defined by educators and were sometimes even used synonymously. iNACOL and its project, CompetencyWorks, have looking at some of the misconceptions of CBE that might actually undermine equity.taken leadership in helping the field understand these concepts as different and relational to build knowledge in communicating these topics.

One misconception noted is that the idea of flexible pacing is misused to be synonymous with competency education. Allowing self-pacing flexibility and software for improved data feedback loops is a positive step, but it is not necessarily mean you have a personalized learning environment or a competency-based progression.

In the issue of equity in competency education, one concern is that variation in pacing may mean a percentage of students get left behind. It is not that gaps for students who lack knowledge and skills already exist, but a more time-based structure means these gaps only grow over time. Competency education requires daily focus on student progress, supports to stay on pace and acting to ensure they demonstrate mastery.


Using Minecraft to Teach Information Security and Threat Management

Most parents and educators who are aware of Minecraft as a way to teach programming, critical thinking, design thinking and other skills, and that it is something many students love to use. I came across a presentation by Jarred White that he has delivered at security conferences on "Threat Modeling the Minecraft Way."

He talks about this unusual application of Minecraft as a tool for threat modeling and the parallels between information security and Minecraft's game mechanics, for example, asset protection. 

There is a video online and at about 14 minutes he compares Minecraft's "threat agents" to real-world security attacks: creeper monsters are very similar to denial-of-service attacks; skeletons shooting arrows are similar to remote code execution; zombies are similar to viruses. 

That means that players can also design passive security measures, such as architectural feature that can block spiders from climbing up walls.

Not only is this approach an interesting one for younger students to examine, and perhaps will be an introduction to the next generation of security workers. It can be also used at higher levels and ages to model the basics of cybersecurity, work in 3D spaces in a real-time simulator. 



This is Jarred's presentation from the Bsides 2016 information security conference